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The Latest: China donates vaccine doses to UN peacekeepers – Vancouver Is Awesome

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UNITED NATIONS — China’s U.N. ambassador says China is donating 300,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to U.N. peacekeepers, with priority given to those serving in Africa.

Ambassador Zhang Jun sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres informing him of the donation, China’s U.N. Mission said Monday. It follows the announcement by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi of Beijing’s intention to donate vaccines at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Feb. 17.

The mission said “China attaches great importance to the safety and security of peacekeepers” and the donation “is a further step to make China’s vaccines a global public good, and also a demonstration of China’s firm and continuous support to the U.N. and multilateralism.”

Last month, the U.N. thanked India for offering 200,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses for U.N. peacekeepers.

The U.N. currently has a dozen peacekeeping operations, half in Africa with a total of about 100,000 peacekeepers.

There was no immediate word on what the U.N. plans to do with the two offers.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Why countries are halting the AstraZeneca vaccine, though there is no evidence the shot is responsible for reported blood clots

—- Extent of COVID-19 vaccine waste due to mishandling, poor recording keeping and other reasons, remains largely unknown

— Former cruise ship passengers recall deaths, frustration and quarantine last year

— An alarming number of US prison guards are refusing vaccines despite COVID-19 outbreaks

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SAN FRANCISCO — Alcatraz, the historic island prison off San Francisco, opened up Monday for a limited number of indoor tours, which had been off-limits for more than a year due to the pandemic.

Face masks and social distancing are still required at the island, which once housed Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. Access will be limited only to visitors who sign up for the audio tour in advance.

Officials say Alcatraz will host about 1,000 tourists a day instead of the normal 5,000.

Safety modifications have beenmadethroughout the island includingsocial distancing markers, increased cleanings and hand sanitizing stations.

The popular tourist destination opened to an outdoor-only experience in August.

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NEW YORK — U.S. health officials say some of the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Trump administration fell short of the agency’s standards.

A review ordered by President Joe Biden’s CDC director found examples of guidance that was not primarily authored by the agency, used softer language than was warranted or did not incorporate all the latest scientific evidence.

Under then-President Donald Trump, the White House buried or shelved some of the guidelines CDC had assembled and allowed non-agency officials to vet what was posted on CDC’s website, the AP and others have reported.

The agency’s long-standing principal deputy, Dr. Anne Schuchat, led the review to determine if the guidance was grounded in science and free of political influence.

Schuchat noted examples of documents posted on the CDC site last year that were developed or finalized outside the CDC that have since been removed. One from July minimized health risks while emphasizing the importance of reopening schools. Another from August suggested it was not necessary to test asymptomatic people for the coronavirus after they had been in close contact with infected others.

Schuchat also said the CDC used the word “considerations” for guidance that agency scientists felt deserved more emphatic phrasing.

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OSAKA, Japan — Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. is the latest drugmaker to offer help with production of a rival’s COVID-19 vaccine as their industry works to churn out billions of vaccine doses.

Takeda, one of Japan’s top vaccine makers, said Monday it’s reached a deal to have a German contract drug manufacturer temporarily use capacity at its factories that had been reserved for Takeda to instead produce Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 shot.

Germany’s IDT Biologika Gmbh previously had saved capacity to make Takeda’s experimental dengue vaccine, now in final testing before regulatory reviews, ahead of the planned launch of the dengue shot.

Under the three-company deal, starting this month IDT will manufacture the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for three months, then resume manufacture of the dengue vaccine candidate.

Takeda previously said it will manufacture more than 250 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Novavax that’s likely to be approved in a few months, with that supply meant for Japan.

Meanwhile, Takeda has been testing its existing products to see if they are effective against the coronavirus. Takeda also plans to distribute 50 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine in Japan and has multiple partnerships with other companies to try to develop other treatments and vaccines to fight the pandemic.

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ATLANTA — Georgia threw open the doors for COVID-19 vaccination to a majority of adults Monday, as the state seeks to improve its worst-in-the-nation share of the population that has been inoculated against the respiratory illness.

Monday was the first day that people aged 55 to 64 could get shots, as well as people with serious health conditions and those who are overweight and obese.

Officials with Gov. Brian Kemp’s office say that, overall, another 3.3 million people are eligible, meaning more than 5 million Georgians overall can now seek vaccination.

At the Macon State Farmers Market mass vaccination site, cars full of people waiting their turn for a shot formed a long but orderly line that stretched down the block and out onto a highway, partially blocking a lane of traffic. A few appointments remained available Monday morning at state and local public health mass vaccination sites, but some feared that older people will be crowded out in a new rush for appointments.

The state will open five new mass vaccination sites on Wednesday, including Columbus, Emerson, Sandersville, Savannah and Waycross. The federal government will take over a Fulton County site at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta.

Georgia has only given 20.8% of its adult population at least one dose, the worst in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same data show Georgia has administered the second-lowest share of doses delivered among states, with more than one-third of doses still awaiting injection.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is following other European Union countries and temporarily halting use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine while experts review its safety.

The General Director for Health, Graça Freitas, told a Monday evening news conference that Portugal has so far seen none of the cases of dangerous blood clots in some recipients recorded elsewhere in Europe.

Officials said they hoped a scientific review of the jab can be completed by the end of the week.

Freitas urged people who have had the AstraZeneca vaccine to remain calm.

Portugal is postponing the mass vaccination of educational workers scheduled for next weekend because of the AstraZeneca suspension.

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NEW YORK — Two new studies add evidence that a virus variant first detected in Britain is more deadly than the previous dominant form.

Other research had already demonstrated the strain is more transmissible, but a new paper published Monday in the journal Nature suggests the U.K. variant may also be associated with an increased risk of death.

Comparing cases in more than 1 million people infected in England, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated the risk of death was about 55% higher for those with the new variant versus the previous one.

For men in their 50s or 60s, that meant the risk of death went from 0.06% to 0.09% with the new strain.

In a University of Exeter study published in the British journal BMJ last week, researchers followed about 100,000 positive COVID-19 cases, matching pairs of participants on age, sex and other factors. They also found those with the U.K. variant were at higher risk of death during the study.

The variant has been found in all but a few states in the U.S. and is expected to become the dominant strain later this spring.

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FORT COLLINS, Colorado — A powerful late winter snowstorm that dumped over 3 feet of heavy, wet snow in parts of Colorado and Wyoming interfered with COVID-19 vaccinations as well as closing Denver’s airport, state legislatures in both states and roads.

Federal officials shut down vaccine shipments to the region as the storm neared so the vials packed in dry ice wouldn’t spoil during mail delays, Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti said.

“We think they’ll be at least a couple days,” Deti said. “Nobody is quite sure when things will be cleared and reopened.”

The storm also was keeping many people from getting to vaccine locations, Deti noted.

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JACKSON, Miss. — All Mississippi residents will be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine starting Tuesday. Gov. Tate Reeves made the announcement Monday.

“Starting tomorrow, ALL new appointments will be open to ALL Mississippians,” Reeves tweeted Monday. “Get your shot friends – and let’s get back to normal!”

Vaccinations in Mississippi are currently available for anyone ages 50 or over, staff at K-12 schools, first responders, health care workers and those who are at least 16 and have health conditions that might make them more vulnerable to the virus.

Reeves urged those in the 50 and up age group to make appointments Monday before eligibility expands to the entire state. People can get vaccinated at state-run drive-thru sites in counties across the state, at private clinics and community health centres and some pharmacies, like Walmart and Walgreens.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginians aged 16 and older with underlying medical conditions are now eligible for a coronavirus vaccine, along with all essential workers of any age, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced on Monday.

The list of eligible conditions include asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, intellectual disabilities, autoimmune disorders and more. Pregnant residents are also eligible as are the caretakers of those with some diseases.

All residents 50 and over have already been eligible for a vaccine. Last week, Justice said the state “will absolutely step up” to meet President Joe Biden’s goal that all Americans be eligible for vaccinations by May 1. He and other governors, though, stressed the need for the vaccine supply to increase.

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced plans Monday to speed up the next age-based phase of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout by a few days.

Ultimately, the new timeline will allow everyone else, age 16 and older, to begin making their appointments for a shot tentatively on April 5.

Meanwhile, the state plans to work with health care providers and the Department of Developmental Services to accelerate access for the most medically high-risk individuals under age 45 during April.

The Biden administration has informed Connecticut that it should be receiving a “significant” increase in vaccine doses over the next several weeks. Currently, the state is receiving roughly 139,000 to 150,000 doses a week, and that will climb to about 200,000 doses a week by early April.

Currently, everyone age 55 and older, health care personnel, medical first responders, residents and staff at long-term care facilities and select congregate settings, and pre-K-12 school staff and professional childcare providers are allowed to get the shot.

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LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia has decided to temporarily halt the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine pending a decision by the European Medicines Agency.

Health Minister Janez Poklukar said Monday the Slovenian expert group for vaccines proposed the vaccination be suspended “as a matter of precaution.”

Those scheduled to receive the vaccine will be rescheduled, while vaccinations with Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will continue as planned, he said.

The decision comes after several European countries, including Germany, France and Italy, have decided to halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine amidst reports of blood clots in some who have received it.

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GENEVA — The chief scientist of the World Health Organization is recommending that countries continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine for now despite concerns about blood clots in some people who have received it.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan says officials at the U.N. health agency “don’t want people to panic” even as close monitoring of the vaccine’s use continues. She said a review is under way that could produce updated recommendations as early as Tuesday.

Swaminathan noted that some 300 million doses of a variety of coronavirus vaccines have been given to people around the world, and “there is no documented death that has been linked to a COVID vaccine.”

She said the rates at which blood clots have occurred in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine “are in fact less than what you would expect in the general population.”

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ROME — Italy on Monday temporarily halted administering the AstraZeneca vaccine only days after its government vowed to significantly step up the national vaccination program by tripling the number of shots given daily.

Italy joined several other European Union nations who have temporarily suspended AstraZeneca’s vaccine out of precaution following the deaths of several persons who received it. Autopsies and other procedures were underway in Italy to determine if the vaccine was related to the deaths.

Some 2.2 million of the 8.6 million vaccine doses of various brands delivered to Italy are AstraZeneca vaccines, so the temporary stoppage is likely to significantly hamper Italy’s current vaccine rollout.

The temporary suspension comes as admissions to hospitals of COVID-19 patients, including to ICUs, have been steadily rising, and Italy sees some of its highest new daily caseloads in weeks. In the nation of 60 million people, about 5.7 million have received at least one injection of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says it is “routine practice” to investigate concerns like those over the AstraZeneca vaccine against the coronavirus amid reports of blood clots among some people who received it.

As a growing number of countries temporarily suspend the use of the vaccine, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the reported blood clots may not be linked to the vaccine.

The main problem facing most countries is a lack of access to vaccines, he said, particularly at a time when some rich countries have been “buying enough vaccines to immunize their populations several times over.”

He said a WHO advisory committee on vaccine safety was reviewing the data about blood clots among people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it would meet on Tuesday.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is a pillar of a U.N.-backed project known as COVAX that aims to get COVID-19 vaccines to people in need around the world, especially in poorer countries.

The Associated Press

























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Canada finance minister: Pandemic an opportunity to bring in national childcare

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic and its damaging impact on women has underlined the need for a national childcare plan, which would also help the economic recovery, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday.

Since taking up her job in August, Freeland has repeatedly spoken about a “feminist agenda,” and has said childcare will be part of a stimulus package worth up to C$100 billion ($79.6 billion) over three years. She will unveil details in her April 19 budget.

“I really believe COVID-19 has created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany … on the importance of early learning and childcare,” Freeland told a online convention of Canada‘s ruling Liberal Party.

The budget is set to be a springboard for an election that Liberal insiders say is likely in the second half of the year.

Canadian governments of various stripes have mused about a national childcare program for decades but never acted, thanks in part to the cost and also the need to negotiate with the 10 provinces, which deliver many social programs.

Freeland said a childcare program would help counter “an incredibly dangerous drop” in female employment since the start of the pandemic.

“It is a surefire way to drive jobs and economic growth … you have higher participation of women in the labor force,” Freeland said. “My hope … is that being able to make that economic argument as well is going be to one of the ways that we get this done.”

Freeland, who is taking part this week in meetings of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations and the International Monetary Fund, said U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had told her they saw early learning and child care as a driver for economic recovery.

($1=1.2560 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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COVID-19 in Ottawa: Fast Facts for April 10, 2021

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OTTAWA —
Good morning. Here is the latest news on COVID-19 and its impact on Ottawa.

Fast Facts:

  • Ottawa’s top doctor warns schools could remain closed after the April break next week
  • Ottawa sets new record for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations on Friday
  • The city of Ottawa admits it doesn’t have enough supply to vaccinate residents 50 and older in high-priority neighbourhoods
  • Kingston closes popular waterfront park to prevent COVID-19 spread

COVID-19 by the numbers in Ottawa (Ottawa Public Health data):

  • New COVID-19 cases: 242 new cases on Friday
  • Total COVID-19 cases: 19,030
  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 (previous seven days): 146.0
  • Positivity rate in Ottawa: 9.2 per cent (April 2 to April 8)
  • Reproduction Number: 1.05 (seven day average)

Testing:

Who should get a test?

Ottawa Public Health says you can get a COVID-19 test at an assessment centre, care clinic, or community testing site if any of the following apply to you:

  • You are showing COVID-19 symptoms;
  • You have been exposed to a confirmed case of the virus, as informed by Ottawa Public Health or exposure notification through the COVID Alert app;
  • You are a resident or work in a setting that has a COVID-19 outbreak, as identified and informed by Ottawa Public Health;
  • You are a resident, a worker or a visitor to long-term care, retirement homes, homeless shelters or other congregate settings (for example: group homes, community supported living, disability-specific communities or congregate settings, short-term rehab, hospices and other shelters);
  • You are a person who identifies as First Nations, Inuit or Métis;
  • You are a person travelling to work in a remote First Nations, Inuit or Métis community;
  • You received a preliminary positive result through rapid testing;
  • You require testing 72 hours before a scheduled (non-urgent or emergent) surgery (as recommended by your health care provider);
  • You are a patient and/or their 1 accompanying escort tra­velling out of country for medical treatment;
  • You are an international student that has passed their 14-day quarantine period;
  • You are a farm worker;
  • You are an educator who cannot access pharmacy-testing; or
  • You are in a targeted testing group as outlined in guidance from the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Where to get tested for COVID-19 in Ottawa:

There are several sites for COVID-19 testing in Ottawa. To book an appointment, visit https://www.ottawapublichealth.ca/en/shared-content/assessment-centres.aspx

  • The Brewer Ottawa Hospital/CHEO Assessment Centre: Open Monday to Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • The Moodie Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Open Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (testing only)
  • The Heron Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • The Ray Friel Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (testing only)
  • COVID-19 Assessment Centre at Howard Darwin Centennial Arena: Open daily 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
  • Centretown Community Health Centre: Open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Sandy Hill Community Health Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 pm.
  • Somerset West Community Health Centre: Open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Wednesday.
  • COVID-19 Drive-Thru Assessment Centre at 300 Coventry Road: Open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Vaccine eligibility screening tool:

To check and see if you are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Ottawa, click here.

COVID-19 screening tool:

The COVID-19 screening tool for students heading back to in-person classes can be found here.

Symptoms:

Classic Symptoms: fever, new or worsening cough, shortness of breath

Other symptoms: sore throat, difficulty swallowing, new loss of taste or smell, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, pneumonia, new or unexplained runny nose or nasal congestion

Less common symptoms: unexplained fatigue, muscle aches, headache, delirium, chills, red/inflamed eyes, croup

Ottawa’s top doctor warns it’s “more likely than not” that all elementary and secondary schools in Ottawa will be closed for in-person learning after the April break.

“I am now thinking the probability that schools will close to in-person learning after the spring break is higher than the probability the COVID-19 situation will improve in time to keep schools open,” said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health.

“My heart is heavy because I know how important schools are to the health of our community.”

Etches says Ottawa Public Health will make a decision by next Wednesday on whether schools will reopen or close after the April Break.

Ottawa Public Health reported 242 new cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa on Friday, the highest one-day case count in the capital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The surging numbers prompted the city’s medical officer of health to issue a rallying cry to Ottawa residents, saying the city has reached a key point in the COVID-19 “marathon.”

“We are tired. We’re fatigued. We want this to be over. And this is the point in our COVID marathon where we’re hitting the wall,” Dr. Vera Etches told reporters Friday. “This is our defining moment. It’s a moment where we’ve got to break through that wall.”

Ottawa’s positivity rate increased to 9.2 per cent for the period of April 2 to 8 from 8.8 per cent. Ottawa’s weekly incidence rate is now 146 cases per 100,000 people.

Residents aged 50 and over in three hot spot postal code areas in Ottawa can now book an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but the city warns it doesn’t have enough vaccine supply to vaccinate everyone.

On Friday, Ontario opened vaccine appointments at community clinics to residents born in 1971 or earlier who live in certain “hot spots.” In Ottawa, the hot spots have been identified as postal codes K1T, K1V, K2V.

A memo from Dr. Vera Etches and Ottawa’s general manager of emergency and protective services Anthony Di Monte said residents 50 years of age and older living in the provincially identified “hot spots” of K1T, K1V and K2V are eligible for vaccine appointments at community clinics.

Residents living in the high-priority neighbourhoods of Emerald Woods – Sawmill Creek and Greenboro East and Ledbury – Heron Gate and Ridgemont will have the option to book at either a community clinic or at a pop-up clinic.

COVID-19 vaccine Ottawa immunization clinic

One day after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared in Kingston’s University District, the city is closing the popular Breakwater Park until the end of the university school year to prevent large gatherings.

Mayor Bryan Paterson has issued an emergency order to close Breakwater Park for the next 10 days.

“This timeline coincides with students move-out, but can be extended if needed. As one of our most popular community parks, closing it is a last resort,” said Paterson in a statement

“Yesterday, however, we saw troubling instances of overcrowding, which is especially concerning given the current outbreak in the nearby University District.”

Pictures on social media showed dozens of people in the popular park along the waterfront on Thursday.  During the provincewide shutdown, outdoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of five people.

Kingston's Breakwater Park

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Average age of Quebec COVID-19 patients has dropped by 10 to 15 years, doctors say

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MONTREAL — Over the past two to three weeks, Dr. Francois Marquis, head of intensive care at Montreal’s Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital, says he started noticing the average age of COVID-19 patients dropping.People arriving at the hospital are on average, about 10 to 15 years younger than earlier patients in need of medical care after contracting COVID-19, he said in an interview Wednesday.

“We are starting to see what was very unlikely during the first wave: 30 or 40-year-olds without any previous medical history, people in good health,” Marquis said.

“They’re not seeing a doctor, they’re not taking any kind of medication, they don’t have diabetes, they don’t have high blood pressure — they just get sick.”

Marquis’s observations echo a warning earlier this week from Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, who said health officials across the country are reporting rising numbers of younger patients in hospitals who soon need intensive care.

“Many of them deteriorate quite quickly and have to be admitted to the ICU,” she said.

Dr. Gaston De Serres, an epidemiologist with Quebec’s public health institute, said the proportion of Quebecers over 80 in hospital with COVID-19 has been declining since mid-March — largely due to vaccination.

He said it’s not just the proportion of hospital patients who are younger that’s increasing, the overall number of younger patients is rising as well. De Serres said there were 40 people between 50 and 59 years old who were hospitalized the week of March 7. During the week of March 28, there were 54.But hospitalizations are still not rising significantly among people under 30. “It’s younger,” he said of the average age of patients. “It’s not young.”

Ten people between 20 and 29 years old were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Quebec the week of March 28, up from five two weeks earlier, De Serres said.

“If you have more cases, you will clearly have more hospitalizations, but the proportion of all hospitalized cases will remain small because these younger age groups are very low risk of being hospitalized.”

De Serres said he thinks more younger people are getting sick because the coronavirus variants of concern are more transmissible and they lead to more severe illness more frequently.

Mike Benigeri, director of the data bureau at the Institut national d’excellence en sante et services sociaux, a Quebec government health-care research institute, said that over the past two weeks, there has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of people aged 40 to 69 who have been infected with COVID-19. He said the percentage is even higher among people aged 18 to 30.

Marquis said older people and those with other medical conditions may notice a COVID-19 infection sooner. People who are healthier may not seek medical attention until they’re very ill, he added.

“They will push the limits of endurance up to the point when they say, OK, it’s enough, I really need to go to the hospital,” he said.

Despite the odds of dying being low among younger people, that doesn’t mean the consequences among the small group who do get severely ill are any smaller, he said.

“If you’re that unlucky guy, well, you’re going to die — and you’re not going die 1.5 per cent, you’re going be fully dead.”

Quebec Premier Francois Legault has repeatedly said that with vaccination protecting older people, the province will be able to tolerate more COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Quoc Nguyen, a gerontologist at the Universite de Montreal hospital centre, said while that may be true when it comes to deaths, it may not be the case for ICU capacity.

“When we look at one case in December versus one case in March, it seems that for a single case we have more intensive care than we used to before, but we don’t necessarily have more hospitalization,” he said.

It’s ICU capacity that worries Marquis. His ICU is supposed to have 24 beds, but because staff members have left the health-care system — particularly nurses — it now has a capacity of 14: seven beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients and seven for everyone else.

“I am really afraid that in two weeks we’re going to be in the same place as Ontario is right now and I don’t think that we can deal with that many patients,” he said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has imposed a four-week stay-at-home order after a third wave of COVID-19 started to overwhelm the health system.

“They’re going to saturate the ICU availability very, very quickly for a very long time,” Marquis said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2021.

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